A summit of more than 60 high-level policymakers, leaders and health experts have adopted a global plan aimed at tackling the growing cancer crisis in developing countries.
The plan, contained in the World Cancer Declaration, recommends a set of 11 cancer-busting targets for 2020 and outlines priority steps that need to be taken in order to meet them. It was presented Sunday at the close of the World Cancer Congress in Geneva and offered as a global template for governments and other groups to tailor as they devise their own plans to guide local efforts.
"The rise of cancer in less affluent countries is an impending disaster," WHO director-general Dr Margaret Chan told delegates at the opening of the congress this week. "The time is right to make cancer control a development priority."
Chan said she believed that several recent trends in public health make the international community especially receptive to the arguments made in the declaration and responsive to its call to action.
Former UN commissioner for human rights Mary Robinson, who chaired the summit, said cancer control is a human rights issue, tied to the right to health through access to an effective health system.
"Ultimately, it is a question of human rights and above all, it is a question of human dignity. Adoption of the World Cancer Declaration is another step in a real commitment - a vision - of how to tackle this huge world health issue," said Robinson, who is now president of Realizing Rights, a New York-based human rights organization.
Much can be done to tackle cancer in the developing world, the experts said. About one-third of cancer cases can be prevented and another third can be cured if detected early and treated properly.
Targets recommended in the declaration include significant drops in global tobacco consumption, obesity and alcohol intake; universal vaccination programmes for hepatitis B and human papilloma virus to prevent liver and cervical cancer; dramatic reduction in the emigration of health workers with specialist cancer training; universal availability of effective pain medication and the dispelling of myths and misconceptions about the disease.
During the summit, participants made several suggestions for how to meet the targets in the declaration and emphasized certain priorities. The importance of myth reduction and proper pain relief for cancer patients were emphasized. The idea of a global fund for cancer, similar to the Global Fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, was tabled as a possible goal, given that cancer kills more people than those three diseases combined.
Other highlights of the World Cancer Congress closing ceremony include an award to Raul Pitarque and Javier Bou, who won the prize for a symbol to designate smoke-free environments for children. Pitarque and Bou are tobacco activists in Argentina, and their simple but evocative design was judged to be widely useable, communicating effectively across cultures.
Also recognized at the ceremony were the winners from the Reel Lives film festival - the first ever devoted to the theme of cancer. Jan Gassmann from Switzerland was honoured for his film *Chrigu", a moving and surprising portrait of a young man who once had great plans for the future until, at the age of 21, an advanced-stage tumour was found in his neck.
Runners up were "The Truth about Cancer" (USA) for best reportage, The Art of Living (India) for best personal story, The Children of Avenir (Morocco) for best educational or organizational film, and "Hookah" (Israel) for the best public service announcement.
About 25 million people worldwide are living with cancer. It is the second leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for about 13% of all deaths. Last year, cancer killed about 7.9 million people, about 72% of whom were in developing countries. The World Health Organization (WHO) forecasts that by 2030, the annual global death toll will rise to about 11.5 million.
The World Cancer Summit was hosted by the International Union Against Cancer (UICC), the leading international non-governmental organization dedicated to the global control of cancer. The UICC holds a World Cancer Congress every two years. The next World Cancer Congress will meet in Beijing, 18-21 August 2010.
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